COVID-19 has tried it, but the young people of T&T are not contented to sit by and let hate-mongers determine this country’s new normal. Following a slew of racially-charged comments and bitter exchanges between Indo-Trinidadians and Afro-Trinidadians on social media in the wake of the recently-concluded General Elections, T&T’s youth have pushed back in the hopes of launching a regional movement against racism; ultimately reinforcing recent international trends.
Prompted by a one-minute video by 17-year old Sachin Balkissoon on the social media platform Tik Tok, many young people have been sharing the electronic message and posting videos of their own denouncing racial division in T&T.
On August 12, Balkissoon took the initial stance rejecting racism and called on others to speak up under the hashtag: mycountryyourcountry. Some of his fellow content creators and other youths, in general, responded by collaborating with him in another video bearing the hashtags: mycountryyourcountry endracism trinidadandtobago.
They made declarations like: “It is time for us to do better!” and “We are our own generation… stamping out racism is our responsibility,” as strains of “God Bless Our Nation” emerged in the background.
The mycountryyourcountry hashtag has garnered around 700 shares and over 150,000 collective views on Facebook, Instagram and other social media accounts.
In a second collaboration with Balkissoon, bearing the hashtag: everycreedandrace and posted on August 17, young people across the country from Port-of-Spain through Tunapuna, Toco, San Fernando and Tobago again denounced racism and promoted T&T as a happy, all-embracing society, amidst backdrops of this country’s picturesque beaches and flora and fauna. Additionally, there were others who posted videos of their own.
Speaking to Guardian Media Ltd on Tuesday via phone, Balkissoon said he was so shocked last week by the racial onslaught against each other by this country’s two major ethnic groups, he had a physical reaction.
“After the elections, my feed on social media and other friends’ accounts exploded with racist comments; East Indians (Indo-Trinidadians) against Africans (Afro-Trinidadians), Africans (Afro-Trinidadians) against (Indo-Trinidadians) Indians. It was disgusting. People said it made them cry. Personally, I vomited. It was some really heinous stuff.
“It made you sick, it put your mood off…and my friends collectively had an opposition to it. It was horrible,” he recalled.
Stressing that he had no claim on the anti-racism movement led by the youth, Balkissoon explained that he was just articulating what his peers were feeling and had to speak out, especially to try to bring healing to his friends around him who were hurting.
The youth who has ramped up over 17.9 k followers since he started creating short videos last August as a means of comic relief for young people, said he had hoped his initial video would help shift an “outdated” mindset which he felt had plagued generations for “too long” in this country.
Apart from being appalling, Balkissoon felt the heightened animosity between the races was “worrisome” because left unchecked, it could be normalised in this country.“The way the country was moving if people became more racist, we wouldn’t be able to hang out in the same way anymore. There would be this big divide between us,” he expressed.
The Theatre Arts student of Princes Town West Secondary, who formerly attended Cowen Hamilton Secondary in Moruga, said he cherished his days of growing up in his “sanctuary” of Princes Town among and attending school with other ethnic groups.
“I didn’t see those comments (last week) coming from my age group,” he said.
He believes that because social media provides a high degree of anonymity, people feel free to bully each other and spew hate.
Having received positive feedback from young people in places like Guyana, Jamaica and New Delhi, Balikissoon said he and other content creators want to intensify their efforts to stamp out racism.
He said the entire experience has made him think deeper about his previously lighter Tik Tok content and become more sensitive to other people’s feelings in general.
Balkissoon has the support of his parents, Sherry and Rohit, with the latter sharing that his son had always been a “people person” who embraced everyone.
One of the young people who collaborated with Balkissoon is 19-year-old Kyle Bennett from D'Abadie.
“This was my first time actively voting, so I was paying close attention to politics on social media. I always had an idea of what was going on in terms of racism and segregation in our country, but this was a whole other level of racism, segregation and prejudice,” said via WhatsApp.
The Instagram and YouTube content creator who plans to study robotics engineering said people of his generation who participated in the hatred admitted they were just mimicking their parents and grandparents.
“I believe that our generation is truly the future of our country and that means that this generational racism, segregation and discrimination does not have to continue with us, we can put a stop to it,” Bennet insisted.
T&T YOUTH PUSH BACK, SET THE PACE
Q&A with Shanice Webb, President of the Trinidad Youth Council (TYC).
In light of an apparent resurgence of youth involvement in local issues, Guardian Media Ltd chatted with Shanice Webb, president of the Trinidad Youth Council for her take on such developments.
1. Please outline the aim of the TYC.
The Trinidad Youth Council is an all-inclusive, non-partisan, non-governmental, non-discriminatory, youth-led, youth-oriented, youth-structured national youth movement which aims to synchronise youth development at the grassroots and wider community level.
2. Tell me a little about your role as president.
I have been president of the Council for the past three years. I have represented Trinidad and Tobago locally, regionally and internationally. I’m a part of the UNFP Youth Advisory Board. We’ve done projects and initiatives geared towards youth development and engagement; our most recent initiative having been a youth Covid-19 response. We also worked on a virtual youth summit earlier this year.
3. Young people have been sending a resounding message on social media in response to the barrage of racist comments which followed the recent General Elections. How do you feel about this development?
It is excellent that young people are really and truly pushing back against the narrative of racism and discrimination in Trinidad and Tobago. It clearly shows that young people are taking charge and saying that we are going to make a difference with our generation and I think that is key; being able to set the pace; the example to everyone else and show that we are willing to make a different choice.
4. Within recent times this country has seen an increased interest in the youth parliament, political experts stressing the importance of the youth vote in national elections…even youths in East Port-of-Spain taking to the streets in the wake of the deaths of their peers at the hands of police. Would you say the youth have intensified their thrust towards shaping T&T society within recent times? Do you see this current social media push back on racism as an extension of this?
I think that young people have always been active members of society, speaking out against injustice going back to the Black Power Movement in the '70s. Young people have always been active participants, so this continues along with that trend. Recently young people continue to make their voices heard and with social media everyone has access to their own platforms really amplifying the issues that they want to see, and I think that mainstream media has played a role, as well, harmonising young people’s voices and giving them a space.
5. What do you think makes this generation– Generation Z–as some say, capable of effecting meaningful change in mindsets, legislation and ultimately in Trinbagonian society?
The reason why this generation is able to champion change and be able to see change happen, not just in mindsets is because this generation is looking at themselves and not necessarily blaming other generations for what has happened or errors of the past, but saying: Hey, this begins with us. We want to see a better Trinidad and Tobago, a Trinidad and Tobago that is inclusive, that empowers everyone. By doing that level of introspection and saying this is what we want and by actively working towards it is what makes the difference.